How do you write a hit record? Lock a bunch of unattractive over-the-hill songwriters with shattered dreams of being spotlight superstars in a room, add money, buy auto-toon software, and hire a pretty face to sing the songs. Or, if you live in the blood and sweat world of ANNIHILATOR guitarist/founder Jeff Waters you go with your gut, hit the studio when the time feels right, and cough up an album like the highly praised rip and tear called Feast.
"This is the first record where we took a big break from getting in the studio and writing," says Waters. "We were finished with the cycle for the last album by the fall of 2010. It was a little over two years of not going into the studio to write. Dave (Padden/vocals, guitars) and I decided that we could pump out an album every year-and-a-half, and some albums would be better than others but it would be a case of just doing the same thing over and over. We wanted to see what happened if we took some time off from the writing. I did tons of guitar clinics around the world, we did some special festival dates, I did some mixing and mastering in my studio; there just wasn’t any new Annihilator stuff coming out of that. And from what I’ve been told it paid off because everyone seems to feel that Feast has brought things up a level."
"I think it was good that we took the time off, and if I didn’t have all that stuff to do in those two years I would have gone straight into the studio and started writing. I had lots to do and Dave kept pushing me away from it, so I just decided to go with it until the time was right."
Waters is in a good place these days both professionally and personally these days, yet the music he cranked out for Feast is (for the most part) full-on aggressive and a great soundtrack for pissed-offedness.. Not exactly a case of the art reflecting the man this time out.
"I don’t get that either. We threw that one song 'Perfect Angel Eyes' in the middle of the album, but you’re right, other than that it’s more aggressive and has an 'F-You' vibe. It’s weird how that worked out."
Feast's punk attitude is equally weird and totally unexpected. Sure, the legendary thrash sound that made Annihilator famous is very much alive and seething, but there are moments where Waters sounds like he's channelling as much of THE EXPLOITED as he is SLAYER.
"You know what? That’s the one thing I didn’t realize until very recently. I did a two-and-a-half week European press trip, I did something like 113 interviews – which is way more than I’ve ever done for an album – and I repeatedly heard the question 'Where’s this punk vibe coming from?' And my only answer was 'I don’t know' (laughs). I usually get questions about my soloing and I tell them it’s blues speeded up, and even though I don’t really know the blues, I just know the stuff passed down by ANGUS YOUNG and GLENN TIPTON who got it from B.B. KING and CHUCK BERRY. At least I know where that blues influence comes from. The punk stuff… no idea where that comes from."
Folks might be tempted to credit vocalist/guitarist Dave Padden for pushing the band's sound, as he's become a major part of the Waters formula over the years. Turns out that Padden was less involved in Feast beyond belting out his vocal parts.
"Usually he writes a couple of songs and the lyrics on the records, but this time he did just one," Waters reveals. "And the other song I gave him, Dave said 'Give it to DANKO JONES, it suits him better…' (laughs). Dave’s got his own life in Vancouver, plays in a couple other bands and makes some money, and he has a job, so it’s a great life in paradise for him. We’ve been together for 10 years and five or six albums, and I’ve told him 'You have to write the fricking lyrics…' because when he writes them it’s not the same old Jeff Waters hit-and-miss approach. But, I’m lucky if I get two out of him (laughs).”
In all seriousness, though, Padden is an integral part of Annihilator...
"Dave has evolved from being just another Waters hired gun to being the voice and a face of this band. I look back at the whole thing and the whole idea was to have a band. But, with all the musicians that have come and gone through Annihilator, I realize now that I'm older that because I wrote the guitars, I wrote the bass parts, I got behind the drums to show the drummer what I wanted, told the singer what to sing and even wrote the lyrics, in that situation it's not going to be a band (laughs). That's what I did because I wanted things a certain way. The people in the first Annihilator line-up figured it out pretty quick, so they'd go party or whatever and let me do my stuff, eventually just losing interest and leaving. For me it was just totally normal to have a rotating line-up, but there were people on the outside wondering what the hell I was doing."
"Ironically, how many bands have had their first four albums with four different singers in that time become really big international sellers? Looking back at that, I can't complain. If I'd kept the same line-up maybe I would have been finished 10 or 15 years ago. It's been 10 years with Dave, and I went from calling him up and offering him so much money to do a record or a tour to asking what he thought about a specific song or a T-shirt design or tour ideas. By 2005 or 2006 we'd become partners in this."
Backtracking a bit, it's worth noting that Toronto rocker Danko Jones does in fact put in an appearance on Feast, handling the lead vocals on 'Wrapped'. In a separate interview Jones commented on his second Annihilator appearance; his first was on the track 'Couple Suicide' with Arch Enemy singer Angela Gossow featured on the Metal album from 2007.
"Look, when Jeff Waters asks you to sing on an Annihilator, you get in the studio and start singing your ass off," says Jones. "It was a song that had been hanging around for a few years; I did the vocals a while back. When Jeff told me he was gonna put it on the new record I was pretty stoked. I’m glad people get to hear it now."
Feedback in the European press prior to Feast's release was big on praise for the new songs. The addition of the Re-Kill bonus CD featuring re-recorded versions of some classic and not-so-famous Annihilator tunes served to create an ominous buzz overall. It turns out, however, that Waters initially had no intention and no interest in doing any sort of re-recordings. In fact, he was dead set against it.
"I'd been asked many times over the last five years - now that Dave is a fixture in the band - about redoing some of the songs with Dave on vocals. I'd always say 'Fuck, no way' because there are lots of bands that have re-done their older material, some of which I like and some I don't. I never wanted to get put in that bin at the record store, but then Dave of course had this brilliant idea of forcing the issue (laughs). He talked over and over about re-recording some of the Annihilator tunes we want to do live over the next few years. I said no, not a chance, but Dave said we shouldn't sell it as an album; just give it away for free on the record company website. It was a brilliant idea because giving it away free to the fans, you can't get slammed for that unless its horrendous (laughs). The record label heard the songs and said no way, it was going to be a free bonus CD to go with the new album. We were totally into that."
"I was downplaying the Re-Kill cover thing because I wanted people to focus on giving a listen to Feast, but the press started saying that they loved it. They were really happy with the new album but they like the Re-Kill idea as well. It became a positive thing and I realized just what a cool fan package it is."
"A couple things about this is that (1) the new versions of the songs aren't going to be as good as the originals because those performances were classic for the time they were done, and (2) being with Dave for 10 years and the sales of our last three albums getting bigger and bigger, I'm very appreciative of the reactions we've been getting. The pre-orders for Feast exceeded the sales for the last album, and I've been happy up to this point doing my thing and selling a minimal amount of records, so to have this major buzz happen now is amazing, especially at the age of 47 (laughs)."
And at this point there's no worry of things slowing down. Annihilator have toured South America over the last couple years based on the strength of the band's legacy, Feast has charted higher than any other Annihilator album since 2001 in several markets around the world, and two European tours have been booked in support of the album. Just the tip of the iceberg at this point, all thanks to the next generation of metal fans.
"Dave pointed out that we're doing more shows, getting better pay for the shows, playing later at night, co-headlining and headlining more, and that now - finally - more than half the people that come to our shows are under 25 years old," says Waters. "It's no longer just mom and dad taking their kid to the show, it's kids discovering Annihilator for themselves, so why not use the free Re-Kill CD for the new fans that may not be able to find some of the songs?"
"It's exciting to know that we're going to go out there and it's not just going to be old schoolers in their 40s and 50s out there. There will be lots of them, but there will also be the kids that have discovered Annihilator just because they're metalheads."